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House bill would create BOE election task force

March 24, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

A bill creating a task force to study whether the Washington County Board of Education should be elected by district rather than at large barely caused a stir Thursday in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Sponsored by the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, the bill directs the task force to study election alternatives and the impact of growth on the board's capital budget plan, and recommend options for distributing revenues the board receives from the county excise tax.

"Washington County has the largest enrollment growth in the state," delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank told the committee. He said members of the community had approached delegation members to "start a discussion" about how board members are elected.

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Rather than seeking a change, Shank said the delegation thought forming a task force to study the issue would involve the people concerned, help form a community consensus and "deal with the various serious growth issues in Washington County."

Because the bill was filed late in the legislative session, only the sponsor was permitted to testify. But attorney Anthony J. Trotta attended the hearing, representing the Board of Education in opposition to the bill. He declined to discuss the bill with The Herald-Mail, but said the board's objections were outlined in a letter to the committee.

The letter says the board is "strongly opposed" to the bill, asserting that the current system works. It cites board members' fears that a regionalized board might result in money being allocated on the basis of where members' votes are coming from rather than according to need. But Shank has said the bill resulted from concerns by residents in outlying areas of the county that projects at their schools were being left out.

Reached at his home Thursday evening, board President W. Edward Forrest said that beyond the board's concerns about potential regional conflicts, members were concerned that the bill "greatly expands" what was originally to be studied - going beyond at-large or district elections to the effects of growth on board budgets.

The school system already has a matrix for ranking the priority of capital projects "in a completely equitable way."

"Our staff has gone the extra mile in documenting for the delegation that they are done in an equitable manner," he added, noting the school system had a $6 million list of projects at various schools, from replacing ceiling tiles to installing new lighting.

Forrest said proponents of the bill were "advocating for their schools we need more people like them." And while he said he wasn't sure studying the issues would cause any harm, he thought "it would be a better use of time to study how to deal with growth problems or how to get more money from the state" for the county's schools.

House bill 1618

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